The overhead squat is a formidable exercise that requires as much physical strength as it does technical skills to perform. Of all the squat variations, and there are many (squat variation), the overhead squat is uncontestably the most challenging to master.
Traditionally an exercise practiced by Olympic powerlifters, the overhead squat has enjoyed recent popularity as it features prominently throughout the CrossFit games. This has led to many trainers trying their hand at this challenging strength movement. But it’s also led to a lot of injuries because beginners – and even seasoned trainers – underestimate the technical complexities of this exercise.
What they failed to recognise is that the overhead squat is a complex, multifaceted movement that requires considerable practice. Also, few people realise that many of the top CrossFit competitors were former national and world Olympic lifters. Thus, they can make a technically difficult exercise look effortless because they have spent years practicing at the highest levels.
However, with that said, you should not be put off. The effort and consideration required to develop overhead squatting competency will more than be paid back in strength gains. And if you follow the advice outlined below, you should avoid making common mistakes.
This exercise tutorial will help you prepare the technical foundations on which you can master the overhead squat.
Benefits of the overhead squat
Overhead squatting forges superior quad, glute, upper back, and shoulder strength. After practicing the overhead squat it’ll likely come as a surprise that your back and shoulders ache more than your quads.
By practicing the overhead squat, which requires greater focus than, say, the back squat, you will undoubtedly notice an improvement in your technical skill set.
This is a consequence of the necessity to implement near-perfect form. For, unlike other variations, incorrect application of the front squat can result in the need to ‘ditch’ the bar. Make no bones about it, this is an unforgiving exercise that does not tolerate poor form.
More benefits of the squat
Improved whole-body strength
Engages muscles in unconventional ways
Develops upper back and shoulder strength
Forges strength in all the major muscle groups
Can enhance your technical proficiency of other squat variations
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Muscles targeted by the overhead squat
When overhead squatting the primary muscles targeted include the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, erector spina (lower back), rhomboids, infraspinatus (muscles of the upper back), and deltoids.
But also, because the bar is suspended high above the head, a whole host of synergist muscles are constantly engaged to stabilise the position. Seriously, a day or two after overhead squatting muscles will ache that you didn’t know existed.
How to perform the overhead squat
As the overhead squat requires flexibility in the calves and Achilles tendons, many beginners struggle to squat below 45-degrees. To overcome this simply use 2-inch spacers to raise your heels. Alternatively, consider investing in a pair of weightlifting shoes. Unlike trainers, weightlifting shoes feature raised heels and rigid soles, which offer a far more stable lifting platform.
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If you haven’t attempted an overhead squat before, it is wise to practice with an unloaded bar or broomstick. The following teaching points apply to trainers using a light bar.
Hold the bar at your front and space your hands wide; the bar should be level with your hips.
If you’re using spacers, it’s best to manoeuvre your heels on them before getting the bar into position.
Organise your feet so that they are just over shoulder-width apart.
Raise the bar above your head ensuing to apply tension by pulling it apart as though you are tearing it in two.
Keeping the bar directly above your head, under control squat down to 90-degrees.
As you lower focus on keeping that bar directly above your head.
Pause momentarily at the bottom position.
To conclude the overhead squat, stand up. As you do so focus on forcing the hips forward.
Overhead squatting do and don’ts
Do keep constant tension on the bar.
Don’t start with a loaded bar! Opt for the broomstick, just while you’re practicing the basic techniques.
Do keep your eyes fixed forward.
Don’t hold your breath during the exercise.
Do use blocks to raise your heels.
Watch the video demonstration of the overhead squat.